Inside the Capitol

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Gov, riding high

50213 Susana

SANTA FE -- Susana Martinez appears to have gotten just about everything she wanted for her finance program from the 2013 Legislature.
An economic development proposal for corporate tax cuts and tax breaks was in trouble in both houses until she threatened to veto the Legislature's appropriation bill.
Suddenly the previously uncompromising governor became a tough compromising former district attorney.
She tossed lawmakers the "Breaking Bad" tax break for the filming of television series plus an agreement to sign the appropriation bill.
What happened in that negotiating session? We don't know but in the waning moments of the legislative session, the governor's 35-page tax cut bill was trotted out on the floor of each house with little debate and no time to read the proposal.
Democratic leaders House Speaker Kenny Martinez and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez were roundly criticized by many Democratic legislators for caving in to the governor.
It is hard to figure. Did they not want a special session? Were there personal reasons? Did they not want the governor and her PAC going after them in their next election?
One thing seems certain. Unless there are some real surprises in her bill, Gov. Martinez and her 60 percent approval ratings seem headed toward very likely reelection in 2014.
Democrats will have to content themselves with trying to pick off GOP Secretary of State Dianna Duran and increasing their majority in the House of Representatives. Senators don't run until 2016.
The governor's tax bill has been analyzed as to the numbers and how they may affect the budget. B but what people want to know is who is going to really benefit from it? Who were the people who were influential in writing the bill? Will some parts of the new act have to be redone?
The 2013 Legislature produced some very surprising alliances. In a recent column, I mentioned some unexpected relationships produced by treatment at the University of New Mexico Cancer Institute. There must have been others, including childhood friendships, college friendships and family relationships.
Senate leader Michael Sanchez is the person Democrats wonder about. He has been in the position quite awhile so he can't claim, like House Speaker Kenny Martinez, that he still is getting a feel for the job.
Sanchez weathered the full force of the governor's PAC in last year's election. She managed to pick off Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings but Sanchez won handily.
Sanchez gained the right to wield considerable power in pushing through the Democratic agenda but he backed off on much of it. He has the power to decide when and if bills are heard. Either he chose not to use that power or he didn't buy into the agenda Democrats had set at the beginning of the session.
Sanchez introduced a constitutional amendment to allow money from the state's land grant permanent fund to strengthen pre-school education. But he never scheduled a committee hearing on it.
He left discussion of the gun show loophole until minutes before the final day's session ended. That meant sure death because it was being filibustered as the session ended.
Many Democrats feel he could have done much more to promote the Democrat caucus selection of Sen. Pete Campos for Senate president pro tem. Instead he allowed a conservative coalition to form and thrive during the session.
Meanwhile Gov. Martinez continues to thrive. Her selection by President Obama as one of four government officials to attend the new pope's first mass soared her popularity even further.
That should increase her celebrity status. Nov, if she would just use some of that status to attract businesses to New Mexico as former Gov. Bill Richardson did.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hooray for the Irish

31713 Irish


     SANTA FE ? Happy St. Patty's Day. May you be in heaven an hour before the devil knows you're dead.

     Personally I don't have a drop of Irish blood that I can find, but I've always enjoyed their wild and charming nature. And I have a newfound appreciation for them after reading "How the Irish Saved Civilization" while on vacation last April.

     No, I'm not making this up. There really is such a book. Thomas Cahill wrote it in 1995. I wasn't aware of its existence until it appeared under my Christmas tree in 1998. I set it aside, figuring it to be one of those "Wit and Wisdom of Millard Fillmore" type books, which I would scan the next time I was in the mood for some silliness.

     My wife was the one who took it on our two-week Hawaiian vacation. We each read a book a day, sitting under a palm tree on our beach. About a week into the vacation, Jeanette said, "Jay, here's a book you're going to want to read." I told her to stick it underneath my stack of unread books and I might get to it. As it turned out, the book was the right size to slip into my sport coat pocket for the long plane ride home. I hate west-to-east trips and figured I'd enjoy a good laugh.

     But this book is serious, folks. Fortunately, it also is delightfully written. It's hard to put down because there is an astonishing new historical revelation every few pages. It is a history I never read in high school, college or in any of my reading since (and I read mostly non-fiction). But it is scholarly and believable.

     Cahill's message is that as the Roman Empire was falling during the 5th century, St. Patrick became Ireland's first missionary. It was an island thought by the Romans to be so isolated and inconsequential that they didn't bother to conquer it. When the Empire fell, there was nothing in Ireland for the barbarians to sack, so they ignored it too.

     St. Patrick was aware that artifacts were being looted and books were being burned throughout the dying Roman Empire. So he gathered all the great books as he could find and spirited them to Ireland, where he established a monastery and taught his monks to read. Then he set them to copying Western literature, which later generations of Irish missionaries returned to Europe, serving as conduits of Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures back to the barbaric tribes that had brought down the Roman Empire.

     The Irish missionaries went in all directions. St Brendan, the Navigator took to sea, visiting Iceland, Greenland, and North America, according to his reports. The Celtic Ogham rock inscriptions found in New England, and purportedly along the Rio Grande in Central New Mexico, are thought by some to be evidence of Brendan's voyages.

     Why has the history of this period been so ignored? Cahill thinks it is because historians tend to specialize in one period of time ? the Classical Period, the Medieval Period, the Renaissance ? and no one bothers with those messy transitions in between. This "hinge" in history goes from the last decades of the Roman Empire in the middle and late 400s to the rise of Charlemagne in 800, the darkest of the Middle Ages.

     Cahill says he knows of no other book, now in print, that is devoted to the subject of this transition, nor even one in which the subject plays a significant part. Kenneth Clark begins his "Civilisation" with a chapter called "The Skin of Our Teeth" in which he gives full credit to the Irish for their contribution to the transition from classical to medieval, but that's about it.

     If you want to give yourself a good feeling about your Irish culture today, find this book.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

no columns Mon or Wed,

Headed to AZ for family problems. Will try to send as many columns.I have a good one for St. Patrick's Day.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Final Day of Flurry

31513 final day

SANTA FE – Noon today marks the beginning of the final day of the New Mexico Legislature's 2013 regular session. New Mexico's legislatures begin and end at noon. Legislative days also begin and end at noon but that timing is more flexible.
But noon tomorrow is not flexible. Until the 1960s, lawmakers were allowed to "stop the clock" and allow time well past noon to get business finished. But the state supreme court ruled that our constitution says nothing about clock stopping and that any bills passed after noon are invalid.
There is no law specifying the end of the 20-day period the governor has to sign or veto legislation. So governors play it safe and get all their bill signing done before noon of the 20th day. It doesn't matter when he vetoes bills because they don't go into effect anyway. Some governors don't even bother vetoing bills they don't like. Those are called pocket vetoes and don't carry any explanation about why the governor doesn't like the bill.
As of the beginning of this week, lawmakers had only gotten 10 bills through both chambers and up to the governor.
One of those bills benefitted the spaceport by limiting the liability of suppliers of parts of space crafts. No company wanted to come here without that guarantee. Reportedly numerous companies already have passed New Mexico over because of not having the limited liability.
Now that we have it, we are back in the game. Let's hope we aren't too late. We're going to have to hustle.
The state budget, of course, is another item that has to pass. Public employees at the state and school district levels have major complaints with this year's budget.
For the first time since 2008, the state is showing a surplus. But the employees who have seen salary and benefit cuts for the last five years find themselves left out again this year as the surplus is used for other priorities.
Gun laws are likely the most prevalent of any issue in every state. New Mexico has many bills on all sides of the gun issue. Considerable publicity was given to a bill to make it a felony for any New Mexican to enforce any new federal gun control Law. The Council of State Governments reports that 30 states have similar laws in their hoppers.
And if you think that is hard-headed, Missouri has a bill under consideration preventing any member of its lower house from proposing any legislation that further restricts an individual's right to bear arms. The penalty for introducing such a bill is a fourth degree felony.
I will state again, I do not think our nation will ever solve its gun problems with legislation. Most of it will not pass. None of it will work. Our culture will just have to grow out of its fascination with guns. I predict it will take at least several generations.
New Mexico legislators are generally a courteous lot. Occasionally they try power plays on each other but they know that is part of the game.
The one exception is the annual basketball game between the House and Senate. The fighting spirit in that game is only for the fun of it. The House usually wins. They outnumber the Senate 70-42 and usually are younger.
The games are fun to watch and the $5 admission fee goes to the University of New Mexico Cancer center. The Cancer Center is the official cancer center of New Mexico and is one of 67 National Center Institute-designated ted centers in the nation.
The Center says it treats 65 percent of adult cancer patients in New Mexico and nearly all the child cancer patients. That is where former House Speaker Ben Lujan was treated.
Some interesting relationships have been formed between lawmakers who were treated there at the same time. It took years for many to figure why Sen. Billy McKibben, a Lovington Republican, and Sen. Emilio Naranjo, the longtime Rio Arriba Democratic kingpin, were such fast friends.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Three days to go and a thousand bills to cover. That's a tall order and it won't be filled.
At the beginning of this session, when the leadership battle between Democratic candidate Sen. Pete Campos and conservative Democrat candidate Mary Kay Papen was fought, it was explained that the president pro tem of the Senate appointed all the committees. To many, that didn't seem like a crucial power.
But it is. The committee chairman can hold a bill in his/her committee for the entire session without hearing it. The old accounting principal of first-in, first-out doesn't apply. An important bill simply can be ignored.
Occasionally it gets less simple. Back in the 60s, Fred Foster, chairman of the House Education Committee, grabbed a bill he didn't like, placed it in the bottom drawer of his desk. Locked the drawer and proclaimed it would never see the light of day. The action really wasn't necessary but Fred wanted to make a point.
Sen. Tom Benavides wasn't even a committee chairman but somehow he got hold of the original copy of a bill, which is the only copy that counts. He got in his car and drove it to Juarez, where it remained for the rest of the session.
I'm sure similar situations have occurred many times but I witnessed these happening. The most common occurrence, however, is for a committee secretary to have a list of lame excuses for bill sponsors who wander why their bill is not being hears by a committee.
Unless a bill has been heard by every committee to which it has been referred at this point in a session, it is essentially dead. Committees don't meet much at this point in a session because floor sessions, which take precedence are nearly always in session hearing bills that already passed all their committees.
When a newspaper headline announces a bill has passed a committee, readers sometimes are confused that the bill now is law. But that is just a small step in the process.
New Mexico has a mini-filibuster process in which lawmakers can talk a bill to death, thereby slowing down the process and running out the clock before other bills are considered.
At this point in a session rumors start flying that a special session will have to be called to consider important legislation that won't have time to pass it doesn't happen often unless it is a bill the governor deeply wants. The governor is in charge of calling special sessions.
Guns are the subject of a tremendous amount of legislation this year after all the mass shootings. Many are predicting that this is the year when people will quit talking about gun control and actually doing something.
But a surprising amount of legislation promotes gun rights. According to the Council of State Governments, 30 states have introduced legislation making it a felony to enforce federal gun restrictions. New Mexico is one of those states.
It was predicted that the first bill passed and signed in New Mexico would a bill limiting liability of aerospace manufacturers in the case of space travel accidents. New Mexico's Spaceport America is losing business because of not having the legislation.
But those bills are languishing in committees. The first bill passed after the "feed bill" that pays expenses for the legislative session was a bill by Sen. William Payne of Albuquerque designating April as Bataan—Corregidor Heritage Month
It is a very worthy bill. Several Bataan events will be coming soon, including a reenacting of the March. We'll be talking about some of those events in a coming column.
Meanwhile it is time for some late night sessions to get some business done at the state capitol in Santa Fe.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

31113 weird

SANTA FE – Today's features continue with more of the unexplainable in politics.
As we enter the final week of New Mexico's annual legislative session, still nothing major has happened concerning the well-being of our state.
Usually, when a legislature is controlled by one party and the governor is of the opposite party, at least some fireworks can be expected. But this session so far is running smoothly with next to nothing getting done.
One possible explanation for the lack of action is that almost all the leadership of both houses is new due to the death of House Speaker Ben Lujan and the defeat of Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings.
The change in leadership, plus almost a third of the Legislature being new may mean that many lawmakers are still feeling their way around their new positions.
Conjecture in the hallways of the Roundhouse is that in this, their final week of the session, action will explode into a flurry of activity. Count me among the disbelievers.
At least there isn't the animosity that is so obvious in our nation's capital. There are huge differences of opinion here in our state but either New Mexicans are nicer people or it may have something to do with benefits.
Members of Congress have huge six-figure salaries and vote themselves very generous benefits. They have a lot to protect. New Mexico lawmakers don't get paid and have meager benefits. Much of their motivation seems to come from wanting to help their constituents.
Two weeks ago, I mentioned that the action might move more quickly in both Santa Fe and Washington if our governor and president were more social with members of their legislative bodies.
I'm not going to take credit for the idea but it certainly worked with President Obama. He has been a social butterfly of late. Who knows if it will do any immediate good but Gov. Martinez should watch Obama's results closely.
Early in the session, it appeared a bill to clear up some rocket passenger liability issues would be the first bill passed. A measure in each house to clarify the issue did move quickly but the bills weren't identical.
Now they are sitting in committees of the other chamber and going absolutely nowhere. Trial attorneys are still the major suspect, figuring they aren't going to give up the opportunity to make millions off some juicy settlements.
Aren't these lawyers going to be surprised when they kill the golden goose and no passenger ever leaves Spaceport New Mexico? It is hard to sue anyone (but themselves for malfeasance) when the space business has left New Mexico. C'mon guys, this little liability change isn't going to cost taxpayers a cent.
Another issue on which I need some explanation is why New Mexicans seem so tolerant of highway traffic stops that extend for miles.
We seldom take a trip that we don't see lines of traffic waiting for a wreck to be cleared. Recently I saw that a sheriff along I-40 had opened some gates to a frontage road to allow a string of traffic around a crash site. He should be given a medal. You seldom see state police redirecting traffic. Of course, in our wide open spaces, there often aren't alternate routes.
Police say they have to take so long at accident sites because trial lawyers analyze their every move in court. Here we go with trial lawyers again.
The most egregious traffic stop ever occurred last month when cars were stopped near the middle of Albuquerque at the request of Amarillo, Texas police. The weather was fine in Albuquerque but Amarillo felt it couldn't handle all that bad weather traffic.
It seems like Texas is always doing something to upset New Mexicans. I've heard stories from farmers for years about Texas wasting the precious irrigation water we send them. And now Texas is in court trying to get more water.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

RE: 3-8 You aren't going to believe this

Jay, I think you mean: "Doings" in this paragraph. Freudian?


Another event that made New Mexicans shake their heads was Sen. Pete Domenici's surprise announcement that he fathered a son out of wedlock over 30 years ago. For those of us who follow Washington dongs closely, sexual misbehavior is old hat. All that power coupled with people climbing the ladder creates an enticing atmosphere.





3-8 You aren't going to believe this

30813 crazy

SANTA FE – The world is going crazy folks. I don't know how else to explain some recent occurrences.
The most unbelievable event was basketball star Dennis Rodman's two-day visit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Rodman was the bad boy of basketball while he played in the NBA. The United States has had no contact with North Korea, the bad boys of the world, for 15 years or so except for a few ill-fated secret talks.
That is why the U,.S. State Department was so upset when Bill Richardson accompanied the head of Google to North Korea a few weeks ago. Richardson & Co. never got close to Kim Jong Un. But Rodman and a basketball team arrived in town and had Un hugging and kissing Rodman during two days of basketball games.
Evidently Rodman has been a favorite of Un's for many years. Un likes basketball and especially likes Rodman's style. Could the reason be that they both are bad boys?
Back during the "ping pong diplomacy" with China in the early 1970s, it was frequently said that only Richard Nixon could go to China. It is highly unlikely that anyone is going to venture that only Rodman could go to North Korea.
U.S. officials certainly aren't saying it. Rodham came home to tell President Barack Obama that all Kim Jong Un wanted was for Obama to call him. It wouldn't be especially wise for Mr. Un to sit by his phone hoping President Obama will call.
Just a few days after the last talks between the two countries, North Korea fired off another missile. It could happen again.

And then there is Gov. Susana Martinez's $2,200 coffee pot that reportedly makes one cup at a time. This column wrote five months ago about many needed repairs being made to the kitchen of the governor's residence. It started with a leaky gas stove that couldn't be fixed. Removal revealed a kitchen floor that was close to falling into the basement.
The kitchen is part of the public area of the residence so it sees constant traffic from caterers and many others. One thing led to another and much of the kitchen ended up being repaired. No problem with that.
For years, the kitchen had three coffee pots on the countertop – a large, medium and small. Caterers complained that they had to set trays of food on the floor because the coffee makers took up so much counter space. So a coffee maker was built in that would not get in their way.
The story of why the high cost for a coffee maker that won't take care of hundreds hasn't been told yet but otherwise the governor has been as frugal as she promised.
That, of course, has not stopped people who remember the Susana battle cry "Sell the jet" to making T-shirts saying "Sell the coffee pot."
Gov. Martinez also surprised many by voicing support for background checks of people who buy from gun shows. That won't please many of her base who reveled in the film clip of her nailing every target in her concealed carry gun test.
It may be that she is getting ready for her 2014 reelection in a state that appears to be getting bluer.

Another event that made New Mexicans shake their heads was Sen. Pete Domenici's surprise announcement that he fathered a son out of wedlock over 30 years ago. For those of us who follow Washington dongs closely, sexual misbehavior is old hat. All that power coupled with people climbing the ladder creates an enticing atmosphere.
I can tell you stories of many others in New Mexico's congressional delegation, who have done worse while doing great things for our state.
My only lament is the number of members of Congress who voted to impeach President Clinton for a similar offense, without taking a look at their own life.